30 January 2015

Have a party, walk away with a sandwich

You think that I am writing this blog post to pander to the Super Bowl fans out there, with their need for myriad snacks on Sunday.  Maybe I am, maybe I'm just doing this for myself because I like snacking AND eating on the road.

So the thing is, I have long eschewed sandwiches as the food you eat when you can't do any better.  Bread, often dried out and boring, with some slippery stuff inside that makes said bread soggy.  It's not exciting. And it's not worth writing recipes about, is it?

But I eat while traveling a lot, and while I would love to have the time to eat a nice cold noodle dish out of a container with a fork like a civilized adult, or even to heat my homemade burrito in a nearby microwave oven, I don't always have that luxury.  Sandwiches are really practical.  And I figured out how to make them suck less: use spreadable dips as your flavoring!  Smear some hummus or guacamole on a piece of bread, pile on some vegetables, and cover with another piece of bread--that is actually pretty good. So, in honor of my a) love of cocktail hour + snacks and b) the fact that I will mostly be eating on the road all of next week (look for tips on all the hot spots to try in Omaha in a future blogpost!!), I offer you a little pairing guide, along with links to some of my favorite dips...

Guacamole + sliced red onion + slice red bell pepper
Hummus + pickles + fresh spinach
Ricotta and Herb Spread + chopped sundried tomatoes + smashed peas
Tuscan White Bean Dip + kalamata olives + sliced green bell pepper
Walnut-Feta Spread + arugula

If you're at home and can enjoy these leftovers warm, you can also easily toss the ingredients listed above with some freshly cooked pasta and gloat about not having to eat in your car.

27 January 2015

Brown Butter Linguine with Sage and Parmesan

Does this recipe need explanation?  It's low on vegetable content, but high on gooey, cheesy beautifulness.  And if you haven't made anything with browned butter yet, this is a great way to appreciate just how cheesy and nutty it gets, because that's basically what the sauce is.  You can add shrimp or throw in some spinach to the end of the cooking time to make this slightly more well-rounded, if you must...

Brown Butter Linguine with Sage and Parmesan

Serves 4

1 pound linguine
6 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Bring a well-salted pot of water to boil.  Cook linguine according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the butter or medium heat, and continue to cook until it begins to turn golden and smell nutty/cheesy (this should take up to 20 minutes).  Add the shallot, sage, and capers and fry until shallot begins to brown and the sage and capers get a little bit crisp, about 6 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta plus about 1/8 cup of the cooking water to the skillet along with the salt, lemon zest, red pepper, and cheese.  Toss, low heat, and cover.  Serve  piping hot when the cheese is melted (about 5 minutes).

23 January 2015

Making Jack Daniels palatable is a worthy challenge.

I was recently gifted a bottle of Jack Daniels.  I do not particularly enjoy Jack Daniels.  Even as I have warmed (no pun intended!) to the idea of whiskey, scotch, and bourbon, I still can't drink this crap.  What is with this stuff?  Why is it so much more terrible than other whiskeys?  Perhaps it's generational.  Any 80-year-olds out there who can illuminate me?

So, here's what I have found to do with it; if you are ever similarly gifted with any kind of rough brown liquor that you cannot choke down by itself, I hope this modest list of ideas will help you.  Because, as an environmentalist, I cannot let any drop of liquor go to waste in my house.  I'm sure you agree.

Hot Toddy: This is actually easy and brilliant.  Boil 6-8 ounces of water.  Put 2 shots of Jack in a mug along with a generous tablespoon each of lemon juice and honey, add a cinnamon stick, and pour in the hot water. Give it a stir and you've got a tasty hot lemonade with a little kick.

Infuse it: dump in one Earl Grey tea bag per cup of Jack and allow to sit on the counter 2-3 days.  Mix with orange juice or soda water.

Jack and Ginger: doesn't ginger ale fix everything?  I like to go with a 1:3 ratio (Jack:ginger, that is). Garnish with a lime wedge, because that's classy.

And next time, tell your house guest you would prefer some delicious, smooth Wyoming Whiskey, anything from the lovely folks at Backwards Distillery, or wonderful Stranahan's Whiskey from Colorado.

Meet Jack, the ginger.

20 January 2015

"Little ears" and garbanzos

I love orecchiette, or "little ears" pasta with beans.  Each noodle cradles the garbanzos in this recipe so nicely, and most brands of this pasta shape are a little more rustic and toothsome.  You can whip this meal together in 30 minutes and feel both happy and full for a long time afterwards, especially if you serve it with red wine.

Quick Garbanzos and Orecchiette 

Serves 4

1 15-oz. can chick peas, rinsed and drained
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups chopped kale
¼ cup sliced sun dried tomatoes
½ yellow onion, sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups orecchiette or other small pasta shape
Grated Parmesan for serving

Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile,  in a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook until very soft, stirring occasionally (about 15 minutes).  Add the kale about a teaspoon of salt and sauté until wilted (about 5 minutes).  Add the balsamic vinegar, chick peas, garlic, crushed red pepper, sun dried tomatoes, and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt.  Stir well to combine and cover.  Cook until heated through about 10 minutes. When the pasta is done, drain and stir into the chick pea mixture.  Serve on individual plates with grated Parmesan.

16 January 2015

An homage to ever-practical food trends, with links

I always enjoy reading about the upcoming year's food trends because they're so funny.  Not only are they often a forced attempt to push food that no one is eating, it's just a ridiculous January ritual that takes itself way too seriously.  But of course, you do have this ritual to thank for bacon-sprinkled EVERYTHING and all those pins for avocado toast cropping up every other day on Pinterest.  Perhaps this will be the year of celery...

Here's what some of the real predictions are for 2015...

Cauliflower rice?!  Really--try this recipe.  It is actually delicious.

Kimchi.  Brilliant.  Try my recipe for kimchi hash or my reimagining of Roy Choi's kimchi quesadillas. And make your own fermented treat with Vegetarian Times' easy recipe.

Foraging.  I love this, as I have many weeds in my yard every summer, and some of them might be edible. My favorite discovery has been wild purslane, which looks like this:

And the leaves are actually really lemony and refreshing.  Learn all about it here.

Ramen.  Well, then I guess Denver is way ahead of the curve.

Milling your own grain.  Now there we go.  That is satisfyingly douchey.

Goat meat.  I got nothin' for that one. But please enjoy this video and don't eat nice, cute goats. They can't be that delicious.

13 January 2015

The easiest brunch-worthy meal during the week!

Now, I know it's time to get back to work; enough with the holiday revelry!  We've got important stuff to do and we are very, very busy people!  But if you eat this little meal for lunch, I promise you there will be just a tiny moment of brunchy happiness in your heart between nasty emails you have to send this afternoon.

The potato patties are most practical if you already have leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge. If you don't you'll need to plan ahead: boil and mash however many potatoes you think you'll need, throwing in a little seasoning and butter or olive oil without letting them get too soupy. Refrigerate from overnight to one week, and then proceed with the following instructions...

Egg and Potato Stacks with Avocado Bearnaise

very cold mashed potatoes (1 large potato will yield four pancakes)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour per potato
eggs (1 per person)
butter for frying
salt and pepper to taste

for the bearnaise (enough for 6-8 patties, but it will keep in the fridge up to a week):

1/2 ripe medium avocado, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup hot water
2 white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon or dried herbes de Provence
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To make the sauce: Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until smooth.  (Can be gently reheated in the microwave if you have leftovers.) Set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat about a tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat.  Combine the cold potato and the flour and mix thoroughly.  Shape into patties about 4 inches in diameter and cook in the melted butter, allowing to get nicely browned on both sides. Remove to a plate and cover or keep in a warm (200F) oven. Add another teaspoon or so of butter to the skillet and fry the eggs to your liking.  Salt and pepper everything until you're happy. 

To serve, place one potato patty on a plate, top with one egg, and drizzle some sauce over the whole mess.  

09 January 2015

DIY hacks to eat and drink by

I live in a house where lifehacker.com is often quoted, particularly when I am "doing it wrong".  But I will grudgingly admit that this is a pretty great website, and all of the following FOOD HACKS come from them:

What's the difference between cooking oils, and how should you use them? Click here for a chart.

Become a grill master with this infographic that covers meats, fruits, and veggies.

This brilliant chart offers tons of cooking and baking substitutes for ingredients you don't normally keep around.

"How to create 36 world cuisines with three spices" sounds to good to be true, but I'm going to give this chart a try!

How long should you keep that apple on the counter? This chart gives a pretty believable shelf life for a lot of common foods.

Do you have a close relationship with Chef Mic?  Then perhaps you'll enjoy the multitude of microwave hacks the nerds at lifehacker came up with (what a surprise!).

This chart is a nice primer of cooking methods so that you can follow Top Chef a little better.

Trying to live up to that New Year's resolution of eating more salads, but already bored as hell?  Here's a handy little guide to flavor pairings to switch things up.

DRINKS are pretty simple to begin with, so I'm not sure you can go as far with hackery in this category unless you spend a whole lot more money than I do on your bar, anyway. But here are a couple of tricks I've learned over the years:

Triple sec is the working woman's cointreau and/or simple syrup.  Yes, it will be orangey, but if you can handle that flavor in your drink, you can always sub it in for simple syrup when you're too lazy or impatient to make any (which describes my state of cocktail-making often).

No Rose's Lime for your gimlet?  Triple Sec to the rescue again: use two parts regular lime juice to one part Triple Sec to add up to your desired amount of Rose's.

You can make any flavor of vodka you want, cheaply and much more deliciously, by infusing it yourself.  I wrote about it long ago, but it is still a staple in my kitchen; revisit the recipes here.

You will almost never fail in your cocktail making endeavor if you just remember this simple ratio: 2:1:1
2 oz. of base liquor (tequila, gin, vodka...), 1 oz. triple sec or other sweetening liquor, 1 oz. juice (but make it half an ounce to start with it's lime or lemon). There, no you can improv drinks to your heart's delight!

06 January 2015

Best Cookbooks of 2014

In my humble opinion, these cookbooks were worth buying in 2014.  My criteria were:

1) I wanted to copy over 60% of the recipes in the book for regular future use

2) Most recipes did not require trumped-up bullshit ingredients that I have to special order from Tunisia, etc.

3) Recipes were strong on flavor, moderate-to-low on time and effort (because I do have other things to accomplish during the day besides make one freaking meal)

4) Swear words.  Only one cookbook fit this category, but it was pretty fun.

The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes. Kitchens and Tips to Inspire Your Cooking, by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand

America Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers,
by Mario Batali and Jim Webster

02 January 2015

New Year's Resolutions

Making resolutions for a bright new you in 2015 can be an exercise in guilt and futility.  Or, you can do what one person I know does and make ridiculously simple resolutions you know you can follow, like (I'm quoting an actual example here) "brush my teeth at least once a day".  The former style of resolution feels like a rather slavish acceptance of what all the popular mags want you to do (with heavy emphasis on improving your outer beauty), the latter is just so stupid there's no point. But what if this exercise serves not as a reminder of what you're not, but merely as a refocusing of the things you already plan to do with your life? We all get bogged down from time to time and forget about long term dreams we have that we really could fulfill, right?  Over the years I have certainly gone through more than one cynical phase regarding New Year's resolutions (also Valentine's Day, but that's another story), but I'm embracing the ritual this year to remind me of the all the aspects of life that are exciting and fun, and totally attainable.  Maybe some of these are on your list, too:

TRAVEL MORE.  For me, that means doing it economically.  Besides reviewing my old tips for booking flights and planning road trips, there are some great sources for keeping costs reasonable so that you can get out and see more of the world. 

Budgettravel.com is a great way to search specific locations you're interested in for deals and off-seasons.
And I always trust good ol' Rick Steves when heading to Europe.

NURTURE CREATIVE THINKING.  You don't have to be an artist to do this. And while I'm not sure you can stop at reading someone else's article on the matter, this one might get the thought juices flowing.

MAKE TRULY DELICIOUS ROASTED CHICKEN.  Why?  I have no idea.  It just seems like a comforting classic worth being able to make for family and friends. And it sounds a little daunting, because everyone knows what it's supposed to be. But these recipes looks perfect, with some variations thrown in:

Emeril's Moroccan-Style Braised Chicken Thighs with Preserved Lemons and Green Olives Spanish Chicken and Potato Roast

BE NICE.  No link needed.  And demand that other people be nice to you, too. Here's a pleasant little empowering article if you're struggling. 

DRINK MORE CHAMPAGNE.  Oh, but that's expensive. Follow this link to some great alternatives. And remember, it goes flat quickly, so best to finish the bottle in one night. Call me if you need help.